Inter-Generational Branding

Posted by Allan Steinmetz on 24 October 2022

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A client recently hired Inward to explore the contrasts between their aging traditional buyer and their potential to attract new, younger buyers who have different buyer motivations and interests. I immediately thought of the CLASSIC tagline, “Not your father’s Oldsmobile”. How does a company maintain continuity of product and design while appealing to new styles, fashion, and shopper habits?

The Problem.  The dilemma of maintaining your existing buyer while attracting a fresh new target audience is not a new challenge.  If marketers don’t address this problem successfully and evolve with the times, they become extinct. After all, Oldsmobile stopped producing cars and went out of business along with Pontiac in 2004. GM had too many product lines and the imports finally caught up with them.

As part of this engagement, we looked at existing research done by the client, secondary sources, and databases.  We reviewed scholarly articles on psychographics, personification, buyer behavior, and shopper motivations. We learned a lot.

We learned that there are a lot of mitigating influences on staying relevant both in product design and brand perception. Both are critical to brand evolution. Brands must truly understand the differences between cohort demographic groups and the life experiences that influence who they are, based on their past experiences as they grow and mature and develop new habits of their own. Companies need to understand the cohort psychographics, persona and buyer behavior tendencies of the past and present to anticipate the future; by doing this they will understand how they must evolve.

Research.  All too often companies try to be all things to all people, and in their desire to meet all segment needs, and become non-distinct in the marketplace. In my opinion, that’s what happened to GM when Cadillac, Buick and Oldsmobile was undistinguishable; built on the same product platform in the 1990’s. In fact, when I was at Young & Rubicam working on the Ford business, we took advantage of GM’s look-a-like flaw with a classic TV ad for Lincoln. When a patron comes out of a high-end restaurant with his dinner companion and asks the valet for his Cadillac, and to the owner’s surprise, the valet mistakenly drives up in a Buick. Meanwhile, a second, restaurant patron comes out and requests his Lincoln; the valet runs off and momentarily rolls up with his distinctive Lincoln Town Car while the first patron is still arguing with the original valet that he doesn’t drive a Buick in the background.  

I love the quote by Simon Sinek, who said, “Companies that offer too many options often struggle to differentiate. Differentiation comes from clarity of why, not excess of what.”

Just think about it.

Cohort Gen 1


Older generation buyers like baby boomers and generation Xers have a tendency to be more traditional/conservative, and more spiritual. They buy products based on their needs, and seek value as defined by price, quality and affordability. They tend to be hard working middle-class individuals who are focused on their families, are loyal and creatures of habit. They don’t like change and find themselves to be generally content and happy with their lives.


The younger generation’s buyer values of millennials and generation Z are more inclined to be tech-savvy social media mavins. Social media and technology are connected through their fingertips. They tend to be liberal, progressive leaning and more ethnically, racially and sexually diverse. They are inspired by experiential/exploratory shopping and value discovery/learning. They also tend to work with their hands and be makers of beautiful things. Their actions and decisions are often meaningful and aligned with their feelings about the environment, society, and climate change. They are active urbanites who need entertainment and gratification through active leisure time, concerts, travel, events, and eating out. They are challenged adventure-seeking individuals who want products/services that reflect their values and are important to them and the world around them.

WHAT HAS CHANGED OVER THE YEARS - Here are four ways the generations are different.

Shopping has changed. Both the older and newer generations have witnessed and experienced the evolution of shopping. From the destination mall of the 80s (Filene’s basement, Sears, JCPenney), to the big box retailers of the 2000s (Costco, Target and Walmart) to online shopping of 2022  (Google, Facebook, Amazon). If you are a baby boomer like me, you will remember going to the mall as a form of entertainment with friends and family. Today, malls are closing and are vacant.

Cohort Gen2 

News and events. Both groups have witnessed and experienced news and events that influenced their attitudes and mindsets that changed the course of their lives, whether they know it or not. The older generation was influenced by the fall of the Iron Curtain, the personal computer, and conservative politics of the Reagan era of the 1980s. Generation Xers and Millennials, have been shaped and influenced in 2000 by the war on terrorism, 9/11, Iraqi war and natural disasters like the tsunami in the far east. Today in 2022, primarily generation Zers, are influenced by social/racial unrest, black lives matter, climate change, wokeness, and the pandemic/Covid 19. As a result, people think and behave differently based on their attitudes toward these events.

Cohort GenNews

Technology and fashion Both groups have witnessed and experienced technology and fashion that greatly influenced our attitudes and mindsets. In the 1980s, we were introduced to cellular phones that look like shoeboxes which we carried on our shoulders and we dressed like the characters on Miami Vice. In 2000 we were introduced to flip phones and laptop computers and the fashion of the Backstreet Boys. Today, in 2022, our mobile phones are taken for granted as an extension of our body at our fingertips. Fashion is synonymous with remote working, workwear/leisure wear, and experiential expressions of what we like to do.

 Cohort Gen3 Tech

TV entertainment and viewing habits Over time we have been greatly influenced by the TV we watched, and how we are/were entertained. In the 80s, baby boomers and generation Xers, watched network TV with shows like Friends and Cheers from our living room. We rented videocassettes from Blockbusters and watched feature films in theaters like Beetlejuice. In 2000, we all were introduced to 24-hour news from around the world, cable programming and miniseries, like CNN, HBO, Sex and the City, and the Gary Shandling show. Today, in 2022 it’s all about social media, like TikTok and YouTube, streaming video on premium channels such as Netflix, Hulu, and Apple+, with blockbuster programming such as Stranger Things, and Game of Thrones.

Cohort Gen4 Ent 

It is impossible to imagine that so much change has occurred in 40 years.

Recommendations.  So now you understand that buyer cohorts differ, and their motivations can influence their shopping behavior.  What  5 things can retailers and manufacturers learn from this?

  1. Look for common values and behavior that unify all the cohort segments such as ad price/value and similar shopping habits like the shift to online buying and attempt to address the common themes in your brand communications.
  2. Rely on bundling of products, media partners, and services to broaden the appeal across cohorts’ groups.  An example would be to partner with organizations that provide charitable support or learning opportunities coupled with purchase tie-ins.
  3. Capitalize on the experience as much or more than the product or service. Ask yourself what and who will benefit from buying the product/service.  Are there common cohort causes that people share?  Who can benefit from the purchase such as the environment, education, clean energy, etc., that serves a greater good that can be accentuated across the buyer groups?
  4. Use shared nostalgia whenever possible to draw people into your value proposition and marketing communications. Think about what brings people together in a joyous and nostalgic way, like classic music, sports and collecting. That is why so many commercials seem like music videos (Citibank, Subaru, Heinz) because it appeals to many cohort groups simultaneously.
  5. Use personal expression and customizing their purchase to reflect who they are individually. Think generic or canvas type products that people can buy/order and provide means to personalize their purchase to reflect their style and taste. Imagine buying tools or clothing that someone can customize for their generation yet identify collectively with the brand. Think Harley Davidson, or Converse Sneakers.

According to the Cambridge Dictionary, brand evolution is the process of continually improving a brand. It also includes improving customers' and potential customers' opinions of the company as times, markets, fashions, and consumer needs change. Once you’ve added the new media dynamics into the mix the situation can even become more complex.

Indeed, there are opportunities to evolve and capture a greater percentage of broad buyers as long as you know how to appeal to them and their cohort motivations and values.

Allan Steinmetz CEO